Monday, February 27, 2012

Melissa Dickson on the Arabian Nights

In a discursive and thought-provoking session, Melissa Dickson took us through some aspects of her doctoral research at King's College London, which focuses on nineteenth-century receptions of the Arabian Nights. This collection, diverse both in terms of sources (many of the tales came from fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Egypt and Syria, by way of an eighteenth-century French collector of folklore, and supplemented in many editions with other, unrelated tales) and genres (Melissa listed fables, fairy tales, romances, crime stories, animal transformations as only a few of the types represented), constituted a formative reading experience for such nineteenth-century luminaries as Dickens, Thackeray, the Bront√ęs, and Letitia Elizabeth Landon. Melissa suggested that, with history and memory increasingly contested forms of 'time' in the period, the Arabian Nights represents attempts to snatch fragments from the past, to make the past accessible through the retelling of ancient tales. This process also occurred within personal histories, as the famous authors who read the Nights as children recounted their readings as a way of recapturing what was lost in the progression from childhood to adulthood. Moreover, the non-linear quality of the Nights apes the non-linear quality associated with child consciousness in the nineteenth century, as the form of the Arabian Nights becomes metonymically associated with its readers.

We wish Melissa the best of luck with this fascinating project!

At top, the poster for an 1888 burlesque of the Arabian Nights: Melissa concluded by discussing the huge range of such theatrical spectacles as another way of exploring the relation of the Nights to issues of narrative and memory.

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